Indoor Sport Space Hire

The Effects Of Poor Indoor Air Quality On Student Sport Performance

Did you know that May is National Clean Air Month? During this month, when the weather in the UK invariably starts getting warmer, pollution is typically front of mind when we think about contamination and air quality. However, Clean Air Month isn’t exclusively reserved for outdoor air.

As we begin the trend of spending more time outdoors, hopefully enjoying another forecasted blisteringly hot summer, there will inevitably come many times when we crave fresh breezes and cool air, and a reprieve from the scorching hot sunshine. As more indoor venues – including those in schools – continue to open offering a variety of sports, this opens up more opportunities for competitive or social clubs. These are likely to be in high demand this summer, and, as such, maintaining a pristine indoor air quality (IAQ) is crucial.

Most of these indoor facilities already have heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) or similar solutions installed by a professional, accredited expert. For facilities with high numbers of members coming and going, spending hours per week breathing in indoor air while exercising, ensuring that their air conditioning system is in good working condition is vital. 

Schools and educational institutions pushing new summer sports programmes must adopt a similar approach if they’re expecting large numbers of students or young people to take part and use indoor facilities. If the IAQ inside is poor and not brought up to an acceptable standard, it can have profound implications for their health, well-being, and athletic performance. As such, it’s imperative to recognise the potential risks of poor indoor air quality and take proactive measures to ensure a safe, healthy, and conducive environment for physical activity.

Students warm up for activities in an indoor sports hall

[Image source: Deposit photos]

Causes of poor indoor air quality in sports facilities

Several factors can contribute to the deterioration of indoor air quality in sports facilities at schools. These include but are not limited to:

  • Inadequate ventilation
    • Poorly designed or inadequately maintained HVAC systems often don’t exchange air at the optimum rate for healthy indoor air inhalation.
    • A lack of fresh air intake quickly leads to a build-up of stagnant and stale air which becomes disruptive.
    • Sub-standard HVAC systems cannot remove pollutants and moisture quickly enough, so they linger and end up in exfiltrated air.
  • High occupancy levels
    • The more people inside a facility, the higher the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gaseous pollutants inside, meaning that they are inhaled more frequently.
    • The elevated humidity and moisture levels from collective physical activity, perspiration and breathing cause air to quickly become stagnant, even if it’s ventilated.
    • The accumulation of airborne particulates and allergens increases the potential for a facility to become a breeding ground for contamination if the air is not sanitised.
  • Emissions or debris from building materials and equipment
    • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from paints, adhesives, and cleaning products can be inhaled, making it more hazardous for students exerting themselves physically. They may also start to feel dizzy and nauseous with continued exposure.
    • Dust and particulates generated from deteriorating surfaces, or routine building maintenance or renovations (a common occurrence in schools during the holidays) can be intrusive.
  • Outdoor air pollution infiltration
    • A facility’s proximity to high-traffic areas, industrial zones, or construction sites can make it more susceptible to air pollution, making inhaled air feel less fresh.
    • Some systems may have poor air filtration and sealing, allowing outdoor pollutants to enter the facility without proper cleansing.

Health hazards of breathing in contaminated air

These are just some of the risks that student sports players could be subject to if a facility’s air quality is not up to scratch. Poor IAQ can have detrimental effects on health and well-being before, during, and after exercise, including the following.

(Please note, the below is for guidance purposes only. For genuine medical advice, please consult with a medical professional.)

1. Respiratory issues

      • Contaminated air could cause respiratory difficulties where students find it hard to get sufficient oxygen. For those with pre-existing conditions like asthma, this can be concerning.

        Screenshot 2024-06-28 at 15.49.50

[Image source: Deposit photos]

      • Even if a student is not diagnosed with asthma, there is still an increased risk of respiratory infections and illnesses if they’re exposed to dirty air for elongated periods.

2. Cardiovascular problems

      • Students may find that they have significantly decreased endurance and stamina levels during physical activities if the air quality is poor.
      • Cardiovascular complications could arise if a student is not breathing in enough oxygen. Low blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia) can cause rapid breathing and shortness of breath, which is more likely when exerting physical strength.
      • Prolonged exposure to contaminated air could result in disrupted recovery times.

3. Cognitive and neurological side effects

      • It’s not uncommon to find that over-exposure to dirty or polluted air causes impaired concentration and focus.
      • Short-term issues like headaches, dizziness, and fatigue are also common when breathing in poor-quality air.

4. Allergic reactions 

    • Some allergens like pollen, dust, mould or other airborne elements can make their way into a system. If that system fails to condition air before dispensing it indoors, it could expose students who are allergic, causing mild or major reactions.
    • On a similar level, a substandard system can cause existing allergies to exacerbate, particularly during high-pollen seasons.

Importance of proper air quality monitoring and control

To ensure that all students are protected and ‌that they can perform to the best of their ability, school sports facilities must implement comprehensive IAQ management processes and strategies. These may include:

1. Air quality testing and monitoring

It’s crucial to establish regular air conditioning system testing and quality monitoring processes. Measuring CO2, particulate, and pollutant levels can help facility owners get a clearer understanding of how safe their air quality is. Potential contamination sources can then be identified to bring the system up to an acceptable standard. Once a baseline level has been established, changes and improvements can be tracked over time.

2. Effective ventilation and air filtration

Most high-quality vented air conditioning systems will have air filtration and ventilation systems built into the units. However, if not, and upgrading the system entirely isn’t possible, consider installing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and air purification systems to offer better quality control. Circulation and fresh air intake are vital to ensure a facility remains clean and safe to use, which means that leaving doors and windows open will be necessary.

[Image source: Deposit photos]

[Image source: Deposit photos] 

3. Proper maintenance and cleaning practices

At the very least, regular cleaning and disinfection of sports equipment, surfaces and changing rooms should be a regular occurrence. This should be extended to HVAC systems, with filters changed regularly. If possible, ensure that any summer building or restoration work involves the use of low- or zero-VOC and eco-friendly cleaning products that won’t inhibit athletic performance. Any moisture or mould issues should be promptly identified and addressed to prevent the spread of allergens and contamination.

4. Collaboration with experts and professionals

For time- and resource-stretched facility owners, it may be in their best interests to consult with third-party air quality experts. While air conditioning servicing and installation companies can offer advice regarding the incumbent unit, other IAQ professionals and environmental consultants may be able to offer additional insights and tips to maintain a better IAQ. 

Put simply – don’t let poor IAQ disrupt the progress of your summer sports plans. PlayFinder is the largest network of sports facilities in the UK allowing access to high-quality and reputable pitches, courts, gyms, or clubs. With facility owners applying key due diligence measures within their venue settings, we can further assist with the day-to-day running and management of the facility’s services via our cloud-based bookings management platform, Bookteq. Connecting with and booking venues has never been easier!

About the author:
Annie Button is a professional freelance writer who has written for a variety of prestigious online and print publications. She specialises in lifestyle, business, digital marketing and branding.